Friday, April 19, 2019

Creating Native Bee Habitat in your Backyard

by Abi Saeed, Garfield County Agri/Horticulture and Natural Resources Extension Agent

Just like us, pollinators need two main things in order to survive: food (floral resources) and shelter (nesting materials and habitat).

Bee on Black-eyed Susan (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Pollinators, like bees, butterflies, birds, bats, etc., play an enormous role in our lives, affecting agriculture, the economy, wildlife and plant diversity in the region. Of the plethora of animals referred to as pollinators, bees are the most important because of a key part of their anatomy: their fuzziness (aka: the tiny hairs that they have all over their bodies). Bees are covered with these branched hairs specialized for collecting pollen, and different bees have hairs on different parts of their bodies. These hairs allow them to be the incredible pollen-carrying critters that we know and love.

Colorado is home to 946 different bee species. The majority of these bees rely on floral resources in the natural environment. Most of the bee species are solitary insects, and live in individual nests, as opposed to their social counterparts, honey bees and bumble bees. This means that most wild bees need a place to build a nest either in the ground, or in existing cavities.

Due to increased development, these nesting resources are fewer and farther between. Although it is always a good idea to incorporate pollinator-friendly plants, encouraging the beneficial insects into your landscape involves more than just flowers. The nesting habitat is especially critical for our wild native bee communities to survive, and thrive, in our landscapes.

Native bee habitat in your gardens-
Ground-nesting Bees:

Roughly 70 percent of bees nest in the ground. By leaving some bare patches of undisturbed soil - it does not need to be large area, and can be tucked out of the way - you are creating safe ground-nesting bee habitat for these extremely important native pollinators. Although mulch is a useful tool for your garden beds, it creates an obstacle for a ground-nesting bee to find the proper spot to make a home. Mulch can still be used in your garden, but leave some areas uncovered to allow direct soil access for bees.
Ground-nesting Bee (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Cavity-nesting Bees:
Cavity nesting bees, which include 30 percent of the species, can be just as simple to accommodate. Welcome them in your gardens by creating “mason bee houses,” which are made from wood, reeds, cardboard tubes, and a container to house these elements in. Mason bee houses can be as simple or complicated as you like, but make sure that you follow some simple guidelines concerning the correct materials if you are building your own bee hotels. These can easily be found online with a quick search for “bee homes.” Placement can be just as important as the materials that you use for these nesting boxes. Opt for a sturdy spot on a wall or shed in an out-of-the-way area. Make sure that the structure is 3-5 feet above the ground, and away from bird feeders and water spouts that will drain excess moisture. South and/or southeast facing bee hotels do best - they have access to early morning sun and warmth throughout the spring season.
Cavity-nesting Bee Hotel (Photo by Abi Saeed)
And, as with any pollinator habitat, make sure that there are plenty of flowering plants nearby for the bees to access nectar and pollen.

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